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Science says Netflix could be hurting your heart and maybe the planet

By Jacob Oller
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Netflix has certainly created a paradigm shift in the ways audiences watch media and companies produce it, but a new study says these changes could also deeply affect the health of viewers and contribute to their massive carbon footprints. Turns out binging content, made oh-so-easy by the streaming giant, has the same negative effects as binging, well, anything else.

This information comes via two scientific studies, according to The Hollywood Reporter, one from the Journal of the American Heart Association and one from the The Shift Project. The first is about what sitting down to watch three consecutive seasons of Stranger Things can do to the human body. The July study states that watching more than four hours of TV a day means a 50 percent higher risk of dying prematurely from heart disease than watching two or fewer hours. A few episodes is fine, but if you're a serial binger, your heart may pay.

And the content that Netflix puts out is closely linked to the issues faced by its viewership. Netflix featured programs that showed lots of smoking. After a report came out saying just that, Netflix made sure that its younger-skewed shows and films wouldn't feature cigarettes. 13 Reasons Why, a show about (and some say that glorifies) teen suicide, was shown to have come out right before a spike in teen suicides, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. So Netflix cut a scene from the show...which it then renewed for a second, third, and then fourth season.

The streaming company seems to have deeply impacted the very things keeping us alive, but it's also really making its mark on the planet itself. The Shift Project studied the fallout from the huge amount of digital traffic the streaming service had. Turns out, it's bad. Video streaming has increased the percentage of emissions coming from digital means from 2.5 percent in 2013 to 4 percent in 2020. That might not sound like a lot, but old technology is having its problems addressed and regulated (with various degrees of success) while the prevalence of those streaming on TVs and smartphones at its peak — and mostly going unchecked. To put this in context, say a viewer stayed in and streamed a movie. That, according to research author Maxime Efoui-Hess, is equivalent to putting out 6 kilograms of CO2. Driving to go see the same movie in the theater would only net about 200 grams per passenger.

While a detailed comparison would require more information on “the energy consumption of the theater when broadcasting the movie,” the fact remains that Netflix (and other streaming services) use a ton of power to zap shows and movies to fans' screens — and much of it is nonrenewable. Here's a final comparison. Pornhub used about 5,967 MWhs of power in 2016 ("the same amount of energy 11,000 light bulbs would use if left on for a year"). That same year, Netflix used 140,000 MWhs.